1. Relevance of the Objectives

2. Project Objectives

3. Overall Strategy and General Description


 

  

1. Relevance of the Objectives

 

Food consumption has a considerable impact on the health and the well-being of the citizens from South Eastern Europe. Understanding consumer behaviour is also an important requirement for the food industry to be market oriented and respond appropriately to changes in domestic and international demand.

  

However, despite the importance of understanding food consumer behaviour regarding food, WBCs lack the appropriate infrastructure. The relatively weak public research sector, including universities and scientific institutes have encountered difficulties to react to changes and reform curricula. Professors and scientists are often unable to speak foreign languages and therefore unable to access a wide part of the knowledge accumulated worldwide. Science in the WBC has remained very descriptive, with little analysis and a lack of orientation towards applicable results. In general, funding from international agencies has been modest.

  

Another weak spot is the limited cooperation between institutes. While many research issues, including food science, require multidisciplinary approaches, most scientists continue to work in an isolated manner. This situation is fostered by scarce financial public resources for science and resulting in a harsh competition between research organisations.

  

New consumer associations that have progressively replaced the state-led agencies need to gain experience and expertise. In addition, in the perspective of the regional Free Trade Agreement covering all Balkan countries, these associations need to consolidate regional cooperation and networking.

  

The focus of this project will therefore be on consumer behaviour and attitudes towards food, understanding societal trends, and identifying the main determinants of food choice and consumer access to food.

  

FOCUS-BALKANS aims to develop and adapt research tools for assessing consumer behaviour toward food in the WBC through an integrated information exchange between EU competence pools and Balkan universities and between Balkan centres themselves (universities, public health institutes, consumer organisations, etc.).

  

Strong cooperation with the topic KBBE2007-2-1-01 (Networking of food consumer science in Europe and application of social and behavioural sciences to food research), should a proposal be funded, will ensure the continuous access to up-to-date results concerning consumer research methods and tools.

 

In terms of progresses to be made, the FOCUS-BALKANS project foresees the development of courses or seminars in food consumer science in local universities as well as the involvement of PhD students in the topic. In terms of networks, the consortium expects an increased number of collaborations related to food consumer science to start outside the project and an increased number of common publications, joining different disciplinary approaches. Regarding concept and global awareness, the project will make available results and information on the consumer behaviours and market trends identified within the project, it will increase the contacts between public health bodies and citizens and highlight the issue of cross compliance between nutritional, economic and agricultural policies in the WBC.

 

 

 

2. Project Objectives

 

The general objective of the FOCUS-BALKANS project is to improve competencies and understanding in the field of food consumer science in the Balkan countries.

This will result in a stronger participation of WBC scientists in projects related to food consumer science and in an increased number of publications related to food consumer science in the WBC in consumer science other scientific journals. The project beneficiaries aim to be active in food consumer science in their country and region.

 

 

The specific objectives are to:

 

  •  Develop the competences and understanding of public organisations, private enterprises and NGOs in the WBC countries regarding food consumer science (training);
  •  Develop a network of universities, institutes, high schools, consumer organisations, NGOs and private enterprises active in the field of consumer science related to food (networking);
  •  Have a better knowledge and understanding of WBC food consumers, with a focus on products with positive nutrition properties (health alleged food and fruits) and / or sustainability (organic and traditional food products).

 

The training part of the programme will provide the participants with:

 

·    a theoretical basis for understanding food consumer science;

·    understanding of cutting edge methods in the field of food consumer science;

·    up-to-date market data, resulting from a learning-by-doing approach which will provide participants with a pool of relevant  data about market structure and opportunities, consumer trends and habits in three different niche markets: organic food, regional food, dietetic food and in one of the major commodity market related to human health (fruits);

It will result in effective relationships and exchanges between the WBC beneficiaries, methods and methodologies understanding and appropriation, specification of the scope of each research, production of the different methodologies and good overview of all the aspects of the realisation of a consumer survey.

 

 

The networking part of the programme is conceived as a way of facilitating the exchange of knowledge between consumer organisations and farmers, producers, processors and retailers. This should result in the development of a tight network between the public institutions and private enterprises that are stakeholders in the use and generation of consumer food research (e.g. farmers, producers, processors and consumer organisations).

 

This network will provide a framework for both (a) developing appropriate supply chain policies and strategies based on an understanding of consumers’ preferences and market opportunities and (b) improving the efficiency of nutrition and health policies.

It will result in the mobilisation and information of the main stakeholders active in fields related to food consumer science all over the WBC.

 

 

The research part of the programme should lead to enhanced local co-operation and technical competence. The project will develop an analysis of the drivers and determinants of food consumption behaviours in the WBC on the basis of a collaboration between EU and South East Europe universities and SMEs, with the involvement of consumer organisations, which will act as main players for the diffusion of the results. The research will entirely be part of the knowledge acquisition process: the market and consumer studies (inquiries, data collection and process and synthesis) will be conducted mainly by actors in the WBC with strong support from senior experts within the consortium.

 

In terms of skills and knowledge related to food consumer science in the WBC, the WBC project beneficiaries will be familiar with the different variables influencing food perception and will make available data on consumer behaviour towards specific food groups. It will result in the publication of the project main findings, through reports, leaflets, brochures, articles and lists of publications.

 

The detailed objectives of the project are described in a measurable and verifiable form in the project Logical Framework.


 

3. Overall Strategy and General Description

 

 

FOCUS-BALKANS will cover six different countries in the Western Balkans region: Slovenia as a EU-member State, Croatia as associated country and Bosnia, Montenegro, FYRoM and Serbia as ICP countries.  

The main principles underpinning the work-plan are the following:

  • An up-to-date review is required in order to obtain a complete understanding of existing knowledge about consumer science related to food in the six studied countries;
  • The review of the knowledge system will lead to the identification of relevant major players, who will be involved later in the network and who will be mobilised as a resource or will be the target audience in the training and networking activities;
  • The basis of knowledge has to be developed: for this reason the project will generate research data about consumer trends, expectations and attitudes. This will be done through in-depth consumer qualitative studies about four main markets and a general quantitative consumer survey. Capacity building is of major importance: that is why FOCUS-BALKANS foresees a learning-by-doing approach for research: the primary research will be conducted by local university partners, students and SMEs with the coaching of experts and trainers;
  • The network and dissemination will be self-sustained: FOCUS-BALKANS foresee the continuation of the network after the EU-program with leadership resting with local universities;  
  • The consortium of the FOCUS-BALKANS project chose the four markets to be studied on the consumer side. The first is the fruit market, related to a comprehensive study of nutritional balances and consumer habits. Because fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a well-balanced diet, we begin the research with this important market. The focus is on fruits rather than fruits and vegetables to make the project more manageable but the principles learnt from conducting the study can be applied to other sectors, such as vegetables. The second study will focus on products with ‘health / diet’ claims. An understanding of the demand for such goods reveals important information regarding the health preoccupations of the population. The study will therefore generate insights into consumer motivations and attitudes which will be of relevance for communicating nutritional information and advice. The study will identify variations between groups of consumers (segmentation of the Balkan population according to different criteria which will be defined in the methodology (WP4), for example: region of origin, age, gender, education, income, etc.). The third study will be devoted to organic products, as the consumption of organic goods is another indicator of health and environmental concern. Several studies show that health reasons are the primary motivation for consumers to purchase organic food.